Belgrade Theatre Coventry
22 October 2022
Reviewed by Bhavdeep Soor
Samir Bhamra’s energetic musical, Bombay Superstar, pays homage to Bollywood tunes and tropes of the 70s and 80s. It follows the story of 16-year-old Laila (Nisha Aaliya) who seeks out her movie-directing father, Din Dayal (Chirag Rao) after her mother’s death. As she is caught up in the drama of behind-the-scenes Bollywood, Laila faces a misogynistic environment on her rise to stardom.
The audience is greeted with a shimmering backdrop, ominous blue lighting and smoke. On races Laila from the seating aisles, a surprising yet charming way to have the audience instantly immersed. There’s no beating around the bush, the story goes straight to the point. Despite feeling like a rushed introduction, it did well to make the audience laugh only seconds into the performance with a tragedy and a typical ‘thunder and lightning’ sound effect. Amma has passed on, and now it’s Laila’s mission to find her father who fled to Bombay in pursuit of the Bollywood high life.
We are treated to musical number ‘Hello to Bombay’, depicting the chaotic nature of the city streets. Aaliya delivers the portrayal of a young girl in the big city effortlessly. Entering confidently and hero-like is Sikandar (Rav Moore), who guides our heroine to Filmistani Studios. It’s here that the real Bollywood drama begins. Laila and Sikandar start to develop feelings for each other at the emotional expense of Mala (Pia Sutaria). The cast’s sensational characters complemented each other with fluidity and consistency. Although some scene transitions were choppy, they became smoother as the performance progressed.
Renowned Bollywood music numbers had the audience clapping, singing and smiling. For those, like me, with limited knowledge of the Bollywood scene, it was pleasing to hear familiar tunes like ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and ‘Disco Deewane’, with distinct upbeat percussion. Vocal work from Amar and Rao was outstanding. The development of Laila’s choreography cleverly demonstrated her journey from innocence to diva. Whilst the dance ensemble could benefit from a few more members for enhanced thrill, it didn’t fail to impress. With Vicky (Robby Khela) and Dolly (Sheetal Pandya) adding wit and sassiness to the mix, the melting pot of personalities felt complete.
Costume design was on point, with glamorous and glittery outfits signifying the bling and vibrant nature of Bollywood musicals. The script didn’t shy away from teasing Indian cultural stereotypes alongside well-placed slapstick, much to the delight of the audience. The show aims to challenge traditional gender roles in the film industry, exploring how both of the female leads have the odds stacked against them but strive for their own victories. Inclusivity was considered, with script lines and lyric translations projected above the set for non-Hindi speakers. Regardless of generation, the show can be enjoyed universally.
The final number, ‘Bombay Superstar’, is both a reimagining and reprise of ‘Disco Deewane’, it champions the female leads in all their glory, with new lyrics by Khela himself. It was certainly a light-hearted reminder that beyond all the complexities of an ambitious industry, a lively and colourful art-form always thrives.
Bombay Superstar is touring until 19 November: details here.